Wolfsburg win German Super Cup on penalties as Bayern drought continues
WOLFSBURG, Germany -- It's been a long summer without domestic football, but some two months after the DFB-Pokal final in Berlin, the Bundesliga teams have now entered the final phase of preseason. The 16th German Super Cup final between cup winners VfL Wolfsburg and Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich kicked off the German season on a glorious Saturday summer evening. Here are three quick observations from Wolfsburg's 5-4 penalty win at the Volkswagen Arena.
1. Bayern's Super Cup drought continues
Pep Guardiola's men had a score to settle following the woeful 4-1 league defeat to Wolfsburg in January.
"It's a small trophy when you win it, but it's a big trophy when you lose it," Guardiola said prior to the match. The former Barcelona coach wanted to win his first Super Cup in his third attempt, after Bayern twice suffered defeat vs. Borussia Dortmund in the previous two years.
The first competitive game of the season, although goalless in the first half, raised the bar for this season, as both Bayern and hosts Wolfsburg fought for the cup in style. The Guardiola XI -- playing three at the back at times with Jerome Boateng, Medhi Benatia and Xabi Alonso forming triangles in their own half -- sometimes used long balls and sometimes moved up the field with a number of passes, which, at times, lacked precision and timing.
The Bundesliga champions attacked high, with Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski running toward Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels, who was forced into distributing long balls. Bayern controlled the match from the opening minute, but despite all the possession, they rarely were able to get into dangerous positions during the first half.
Wolfsburg, on the other side, sat deeper, waited and looked for Kevin De Bruyne, who was involved in almost every dangerous attack. Coach Dieter Hecking, just as happened last season, did not trust former Chelsea man Andre Schurrle to go the full 90 minutes. Thus, the Germany international sat on the bench for the first 63 minutes before going on as a substitute for Daniel Caligiuri. Their game circled around the Belgium superstar, who had the biggest chance to open the scoring three minutes before halftime.
The state of the match changed in the second half, when Bayern dominated even more after the opener from Arjen Robben in the 49th minute. The triangle at the back had circulated the ball before a long pass to Douglas Costa on the wing opened the space for Lewandowski to run into the six-yard box to meet a cross at the near post. While the Pole did not score, Robben was able to convert the rebound.
The game then slowed down as Bayern, for the most part, took control without getting too dangerous. Robben became more visible following his goal, while Wolfsburg failed to convert their rare chances in the second half. In a desperate attempt, Hecking threw on Nickals Bendtner and €12 million signing Max Kruse.
Yet the clock ticked away, the triangle at the back kept circulating the ball and Philipp Lahm occupied the opposition defence by making runs deep into Wolfsburg's half. But with only seconds left on the clock, De Bruyne broke free on the right, where he had rested, and with a lovely timed cross, found Bendtner. The Dane, of all players, finished in style. Manuel Neuer was beaten, and the game went to penalties.
While eight of the nine preceding takers converted, Xabi Alonso's attempt was saved spectacularly by Casteels, it came down to Bendtner to seal the win for Wolfsburg -- and he did not disappoint. Bayern, and Guardiola and his staff specifically, have once again failed to win the preseason cup despite arguably being the better side.
2. De Bruyne's man of the match performance
It was good to finally see the Belgium international back on the pitch. That's where he shines. The 24-year-old has been in the news throughout the summer. His links with Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have been well documented, and, on Saturday, he again demonstrated his value for VfL Wolfsburg.
De Bruyne over and over again found small pockets of space between the Bayern lines, elegantly moving closer to the wings, with Guardiola's XI unable to locate him. The Wolfsburg crowd, wanting another year of football from their star player, celebrated every single pass, even the shortest, with chants.
In the 13th minute, the midfielder played a couple of one-twos with Ivan Perisic and Bas Dost close to the box on the left wing that left the crowd begging for more. Meanwhile, with the defense focused on the movements, right-back Vierinha broke clear and received a wonderful pass only to fire over the bar.
With only a couple of minutes left on the clock in the first half, De Bruyne out-Neuered the Bayern keeper, who stormed out of the box but mistimed his run as the midfielder lobbed a header over him. Yet, with only 16 metres between him and the goal, De Bruyne was unable to convert Wolfsburg's biggest chance as he sent the bouncing ball past the far post.
While De Bruyne -- and the rest of the Wolfsburg team -- struggled in the second half, the Belgium international surfaced from the wings every once in a while. His slick pass from the halfway line to set up Bas Dost close to the hour mark should have led the way to Wolfsburg's reply, but the Dutchman was intimidated by Neuer, who got bigger and bigger as he only stood and waited for the shot.
With Wolfsburg's chances of scoring slowly dying, De Bruyne awoke and returned to the spotlight. It was his cross that set up Bendtner for the late equaliser. In the penalty shootout, the midfielder coolly converted his attempt and ended the first game of the season on a high.
Now Wolfsburg and Bundesliga fans must hope that the Belgium international can be convinced that Champions League football with the Wolves is a better idea than a return to the Premier League.
3. Douglas Costa dazzles
The former Shakthar Donetsk man's signing came as a surprise for many in Germany, but Douglas Costa demonstrated on Saturday night that he will not give up his place on the Bayern wing without a fight once Franck Ribery returns to action. Mario Gotze has long been marginalised and once again was only brought on as a late substitute.
The meeting between Costa and Wolfsburg's makeshift right-back Vierinha was one of the most interesting duels on the pitch. The Portuguese defender loves having the match in front of him, and sneaking away from his opponents, yet he had a tricky job to keep the new Bayern winger at bay for most of the match.
Costa moved quickly, covered a lot of ground and set up Bayern's only goal of the night.
He could have been on target in the first half when he was on the end of arguably Bayern's best passing movement of the opening 45 minutes. Thiago Alcantara won a ball from midfielder Josuha Guilavogui and played a short pass to Muller. The Germany international made a 180-degree turn to send Lewandowski racing toward goal. The Pole beat Naldo outside the box and spotted Costa, but instead of going for the goal from short distance, the Brazilian attempted a one-two with Lewandowski only for the Wolfsburg defence to cut out the pass.
Costa was also involved in Bayern's first real chance of the night when his diving header following a corner found Boateng alone on the back post. Unfortunately for the Bavarians, the Germany defender hammered the ball against the crossbar.
Arturo Vidal saw his first minutes in the Bayern midfield when he came off the bench after 73 minutes. Some nine minutes later, he had already been booked by referee Marco Fritz. While the former Juventus man only played for a quarter of an hour, his cameo was a positive one. Despite his yellow card, he demonstrated that he's not only a physical player, but that he needs little space for his surprising moves.
He, like Costa, will be a major reinforcement for Bayern Munich.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.